Unexpectedly dark and uplifting all at once. Here is our family review of The Snow Queen, Polka Theatre (2023)
There’s always excitement for the Christmas season at South West London’s children’s theatre and general community hub The Polka Theatre. This year on the double bill is The Night before Christmas for babies and crawlers and The Snow Queen for ages 6-12 years in the main theatre – the grand finale of the first year of programming under Polka’s new artistic director Helen Matravers.
Directed by Jude Chritian (of former festive credits at both the Lyric Hammersmith and National theatre) this latest work is an evolution of the classic tale – Hans Christian Andersen’s Snow Queen.
In this rendition, in line with the origin story we meet the main character Gerda and best friend Kai who live in a small town with little going for it. The town is cursed with an endless winter where even the flowers hide underground and the only ice cream available is three types of vanilla. All this is blamed on the mysterious Snow Queen – a young loner of a girl who cast evil magic before storming off to the mountain, as recalled by Gerda’s Grandma.
Desperate for a coming-of-age adventure, the two friends vow to set off to find the antagonist behind their towns demise. However the night before, a piece of cursed troll mirror falls into Kai’s eye causing him to spiral into a depression of self loathing and apathy for his friend. He heads for the mountains where Gerda believes he has been kidnapped by the Snow Queen and sets off to rescue Kai only to discover the Snow Queen is also vying to save him.
Who Is The Snow Queen Aimed at?
It’s a complex and surreal plot which is surprisingly easy to watch and follow. The show is aimed at ages 6-12 and painstakingly includes a little something for everyone. There are bouncy, bubblegum musical numbers, panto-esque audience participation and sprinkles of foil and snow from the rafters that the younger audience members will love.
In contrast to the slightly corny sing-a-longs there are scenes of intense and oftentimes disturbing drama. The pinnacle of this being Kai, in the throws of mental illness waving icicles on his fingers like knives and subsequently needing to be ‘talked down’ from the mountain edge.
This Emo Scissorhand scene had me twitching in my seat and nervously side glancing the little girls in Elsa costumes next to me. Amazingly they didn’t flinch and neither did my three boys (ages 7,6 and 5) who later told me they had seen much scarier things (mental note to check parental settings).
Of course Kai is bought to his senses by the kindness of his friend and all ends well with another sugary sweet song and dance. True to the original story and its later reincarnation as ‘Frozen’, we are also taught the true plight of the misunderstood Snow Queen with lessons of inclusion and acceptance and not judging one another in haste.
Nonetheless the broad spectrum of theatrical style and sudden ping-ponging from ‘feel bad’ to ‘feel good’ leaves the show feeling a bit confused. Although I must say that my children did not agree and have declared this one of their favourite productions seen at the Polka.
Why you should see The Snow Queen
The Snow Queen is more of a nordic noir than Disney showstopper so best to prepare Frozen fans in advance. The set is monochrome and minimalist but the costumes and fast paced action will keep little ones engaged – particularly the scenes with the sleeping flowers which is masterful and played to squeals of delight from all ages.
The show may be set in a snow capped forest but thats as festive as it gets (no Father Christmas here) so again parents may need to manage expectation accordingly.
Overall this is a unique, entertaining and enjoyable show with all round stellar performances from its talented cast members. There is heart in the messaging and despite the dark twists and turns of the narrative, the young audience left seemingly thrilled. Well worth a visit this holiday season.
The Snow Queen runs at The Polka Theatre Until 21st Jan 2024
Phoebe Naughton – The Snow Queen
Rebecca Wilson – Gerda
Finlay McGuigan – Kai
Paula James – Grandma
Joe Boylan – The Troll king